Ask Andrew: July 1st

From the editor: Welcome to the second edition of our “Ask Andrew” column. To submit your own “Ask Andrew” question please click here. ____________________________________________________________________________

From Debbie in Ada, Michigan
Andrew, Several classical schools use the Charlotte Mason teaching model in a “formal” school setting. As I understand it, “homework” is frowned upon using Mason’s model. How can a school cover the information needed (remember this is a “formal school not a homeschool)and not have homework?

Hi Debbie. I can’t speak for the school you are referring to, but the Charlotte Mason approach is extraordinarily efficient at helping children learn and remember what they have learned. Perhaps the school is able to provide specific assignments that reinforce what was learned during the day.

I will say this, and it seems important to me. Charlotte Mason isn’t all that committed to “covering information” as she is thinking about living ideas. The paradox is that when you focus on living ideas, students learn the information a lot more solidly and permanently. Focusing on information, on the other hand, only helps with the living ideas if the teacher leads the students to see them.

In other words, living ideas spread their life to the information when they are given the lead. Information severed from the living ideas is dead.

From Tim in Birmingham, AL
Modern foreign language educators favor “new methods” of teaching students to use language for communication, both oral and written. The old methods emphasized grammar rules and vocabulary decontextualized from actual communication. As classical education is the epitome of the old methods, I’m curious if it included instruction in foreign languages other than classical languages, and if so, how successful their methods were. Could a classically trained person go to, say, France and just start chatting up the French?

Tim,

Intriguing question. It would depend on the era, I suppose. Queen Elizabeth knew something like seven languages. After Philip Sidney it was “the thing” to go on the continental tour where young men fresh out of college would speak French and Italian with the French and Italians. So classical education is certainly not opposed to learning modern languages.

The other part of the discussion is how to teach languages. The reason for the “old methods” was because their purpose transcended the “practical” end of learning a language for the more transcendent ends of learning to reason, learning “Language,” and disciplining the mind and will.

Modern methods are geared to how we supposedly learned our first language, which I consider madness. Do you really want to go through that agony again? They are also oriented toward more of a stimulus-response approach to language learning, as opposed to the application of reason and the will.

As a result, people learn how to order a cigarette in a German restaurant pretty easily, but they don’t peer into the nature of language and they don’t tend to discipline their minds and wills as much.

Your point about decontextualized grammar is also important. It’s true that that is what the old methods do, just as sit ups decontextualize core strength from skiing. But woe to the skier without core strength.

By learning grammar as an idea, the student is actually given a short cut to the heart of the language. It’s like learning phonics in spelling. Once you get the form, you can exercise your reason and gain the ability to read, write, and speak the language. In fact, you raise the ceiling of your potential by learning it that way.

Plus, you learn the principles that will help you learn any language, you practice thinking in ways that will help you with any problem if you note how you do it, and you discipline your soul on the path to virtue.

That’s why it’s not enough to study Latin or Greek. You also need to study them classically.

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